Famous Dave’s of America Inc. has named former McDonald’s USA chief executive Ed Rensi as its interim CEO, effective immediately, replacing John Gilbert III, who has resigned.

Rensi was named to Minneapolis-based Famous Dave’s board of directors Jan. 13. Most recently, he has been running the five-unit Tom & Eddie’s chain, a “better burger” concept in the Chicago suburbs he founded in 2010 with friend Tom Dentice, another longtime McDonald’s executive.

He spent most of his career with McDonald’s USA, serving as president and chief executive of the brand from 1991 to 1997. Following his stint at the Golden Arches, he started and owned Team Rensi Motorsports, a racing team that competed in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

“I have been a customer and a fan of Famous Dave’s for 20 years, and I am delighted to lead Famous Dave’s for the foreseeable future,” Rensi said in a statement. “Dave Anderson [the brand’s founder] has been a professional friend of mine for a long time. Dave and his barbecue are iconic, and I look forward to working with him and the Famous Dave’s team on this great brand to unleash all of its potential.”

Gilbert’s resignation as chief executive comes less than 18 months after he took the job in October 2012. He replaced Christopher O’Donnell, who remained president and chief operating officer and still holds those positions with the company today.

The company’s performance had been mixed under Gilbert’s leadership. Following a 21.4-percent decrease in net income for fiscal 2012, Gilbert undertook a major realignment of Famous Dave’s marketing department, dismissing vice president of marketing Aric Nissen and splitting his duties among four executives in charge of driving sales in four separate lines of business: dine-in, carryout, catering and retail. He also identified the Famous Dave’s BBQ Shack, a fast-casual variant, as an opportunity for franchise growth.

While the company’s net income and same-store sales fell in the first and third quarters of 2013, the second quarter proved to be a bright spot, when earnings rose 10.5 percent to $2.1 million, or 27 cents per share, on the strength of a 3.8-percent same-store sales increase at company-owned units.

Dean Riesen, chairman of Famous Dave’s board of directors, said in a statement, “On behalf of the board, I appreciate that Mr. Rensi has stepped in to bring his years of effective restaurant management and franchisor expertise to serve as interim CEO during this important transition period for Famous Dave’s of America.”

Riesen also said the company’s plan to report fourth-quarter and fiscal 2013 earnings would proceed on schedule after the close of the stock markets Wednesday. He disclosed in the company’s press release that full-year same-store sales for company-owned restaurants rose 0.2 percent and that restaurant-level margins increased 2.5 percent.

Famous Dave’s operates 54 company-owned locations and franchises another 142 restaurants in 34 states, Canada and Puerto Rico.

Contact Mark Brandau at mark.brandau@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN